Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Pat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
I welcome the opportunity to speak tonight on this important issue for County Clare. We all know that when the Government made the decision to reconfigure services to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, it signed the death warrant for the future of Ennis General Hospital as an acute medical hospital. I am delighted to see Deputy Dooley raise his concerns tonight, like the two of us on this side of the House. When the €14 million upgrading work started in the hospital earlier this year, I recall reading Deputy Dooley in the newspaper saying it was a vote of confidence for the retention of Ennis as an acute medical hospital. How could that be so? Ennis has been stripped of acute surgery. The 24 hour acute accident and emergency service is gone, as is intensive care. We are told that on 1 February, the cardiac services, including the high-dependency unit, will be transferred to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital as part of the HSE's plan to centralise cardiac services.
It is very easy to forget the €30 million promised by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, when he breezed into County Clare during the general election campaign in 2007. What happened the other €25 million? Did it disappear into a black hole?
The transfer of cardiology services was contained in the small print of the HSE's action plan for acute and community health services published in 2008 and supported by the Government. However, this was not supposed to happen until facilities at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital were put into place. This clearly has not happened. The sod has only just been turned on the new critical care unit. The CAT scan laboratory, which was supposed to operate at the hospital on a 24 hour basis, is operating from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m only. Clearly, the logic for centralising cardiac services depends very much on this system being put in place, so that a CAT scan can be read within two hours. Those of us who visit the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick can see it is like a building site at the moment, and there is a very serious shortage of parking spaces there. There is also a huge shortage of beds and severe crowding in the accident and emergency department. This evening, there were 24 patients waiting on trolleys in Limerick, while there were nine patients waiting in Ennis this afternoon. The ambulance personnel are doing an excellent job, but they will not be able to cope when this change comes into place without being given additional personnel and resources. They are already overstretched.
I understand that 1 February is the date set for the transfer of these services. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Killeen, and Deputy Dooley had a meeting this evening with the Minister for Health and Children. It looks like that may be put on hold until after the general election. Maybe that is being done so as not to hurt the Government Deputies in the constituency.
When will the 24 hour CAT scan laboratory be put in place at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick? Galway already has the facility. What plans has the Minister in place for Ennis General Hospital? What is the future of inpatient services at the hospital? Will it be just a day surgical hospital? I fear that when the cardiac services at Ennis General Hospital are transferred to Limerick, it will be the nail in the coffin for acute services at Ennis. We want these questions answered tonight in the interests of patient safety, as we are all concerned about that in County Clare.